A paternoster (/ˈpeɪtərˈnɒstər/, /ˈpɑː-/, or /ˈpæ-/) or paternoster lift is a passenger elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers can step on or off at any floor they like. The same technique is also used for filing cabinets to store large amounts of (paper) documents or for small spare parts. The much smaller belt manlift which consists of an endless belt with steps and rungs but no compartments is also sometimes called a paternoster. The name paternoster ("Our Father", the first two words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin) was originally applied to the device because the elevator is in the form of a loop and is thus similar to rosary beads used as an aid in reciting prayers. The construction of new paternosters was stopped in the mid-1970s due to safety concerns, but public sentiment has kept many of the remaining examples open. By far most remaining paternosters are in Europe, with 230 examples in Germany, and 68 in the Czech Republic. Only three have been identified outside Europe: one in Malaysia, one in Sri Lanka, and another in Peru.
Peter Ellis installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster lifts in Oriel Chambers in Liverpool in 1868. Another was used in 1876 to transport parcels at the General Post Office in London. In 1877, British engineer Peter Hart obtained a patent on the first paternoster. In 1884, the engineering firm of J & E Hall of Dartford, Kent, installed its first "Cyclic Elevator", using Hart's patent, in a London office block.
The newly built Dovenhof in Hamburg was inaugurated in 1886. The prototype of the Hamburg office buildings equipped with the latest technology also had a paternoster. This first system outside of Great Britain already had the technology that would later become common, but was still driven by steam power like the English systems.
The highest paternoster lift in the world was located in Stuttgart in the 16 floor Tagblatt tower, which was completed in 1927.
Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century because they could carry more passengers than ordinary elevators. They were more common in continental Europe, especially in public buildings, than in the United Kingdom. They are relatively slow elevators, typically travelling at about 30 cm per second (approx. 1 ft per second), to facilitate getting on and off.
Paternoster elevators are only intended for transporting people; accidents have occurred when paternosters were misused for transporting bulky items such as ladders or library trolleys. The risk involved is estimated to be thirty times higher than conventional elevators; a representative of the Union of Technical Inspection Associations stated that Germany saw an average of one death per year prior to 2002, at which point many paternosters were made inaccessible to the general public.
The construction of new paternosters is no longer allowed in many countries because of the high risk of accident for people who cannot use the lift properly. In 2012, an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into the shaft of a paternoster in the Dutch city of The Hague. Elderly people, disabled people, and children are the most in danger of being crushed or losing a limb.
In September 1975 the paternoster in Newcastle University's Claremont Tower was taken out of service after a passenger was killed when a car left its guide rail at the top of its journey and forced the two cars ascending behind it into the winding room above. In October 1988 a second non-fatal accident occurred in the same lift. A conventional lift was installed in its place in 1989-1990.
In West Germany, new paternoster installations were banned in 1974, and there was an attempt to shut down all existing installations in 1994. However, there was a wave of popular resistance to the ban at that time, and to another prospective ban in 2015. (As of 2015), Germany has 231 paternosters.
In April 2006, Hitachi announced plans for a modern paternoster-style elevator with computer-controlled cars and standard elevator doors to alleviate safety concerns. A prototype was revealed (As of February 2013).
Many paternoster lifts have been shut down, but there are surviving examples still in use throughout the world.
In the German Akedemy of Sciences in Berlin another paternoster is in use.
Paternoster in the House of Industry, Vienna (offices of the Federation of Austrian Industries), built c. 1910
Paternoster in Vienna City Hall, built c. 1918
Paternoster at the headquarters of Axel Springer SE
View from inside a paternoster in Berlin, showing floor slab
Paternoster machinery in the offices of the Czech Republic's Ministry of Transport, Prague